Helpless orc children

edited February 2012 in Story Games
So, I'm working on adapting B2: Keep on the Borderlands for use with DW. In the original module, there are a lot of helpless humanoid women and children. Some of the females are combatants, to be sure, but many are not. When I played through this module using the original Red Box rules, I ran it as written and ended up with an incident in which one PC, a stone-hearted dwarf mercenary, threw burning oil on a huddled group of hobgoblin young. As soon as he did this, I had the group of hobgoblin females who had been trying to protect the children rush in and stab the dwarf to death with their knives. I rolled well, and he died. I didn't kill his character intentionally, I was just trying to, as objectively as possible, represent what what probably happen in that situation.

In any case, since I am changing things up in the Caves of Chaos, I'm now wondering whether noncombatants belong in the dungeon at all. On the one hand, it's more realistic for humanoids to have mates and young in their lairs, and it forces the PCs to make a moral decision. OTOH, it puts the PCs in a spot, and could easily leave a bad taste in the players' mouths, depending on which way the decision goes.

I'm leaning toward just eliminating all the females that aren't combatants, and all the young.

Also, I'm noticing that as written, these humanoid tribes are boringly patriarchal. Maybe I'll make some of the female combatants a little scarier while I'm at it?
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Comments

  • edited February 2012
    I also just ran B2: Keep on the Borderlands with both DW and other systems. We're part of a weekly gaming experiment where every week we are running the Caves of Chaos in a different system in an art gallery.

    I also found the inclusion of Orc children running around and playing to be odd. On Saturday, one of our players pronounced, "Wow, we're the bad guys. We're killing these poor humanoids... and not even for that much treasure." I didn't even know what to say to them. I've never run this type of game before, and it's been... weird. I'm not sure I would run this style of module again.
  • I think it really depends on how you see your adventures: Soldiers? Mercenaries? Heroes? Victims of Fate? The former two are not above killing children, non-combatants, etc. But if you're the 'good guys' running in and slaying everyone maybe isn't the best idea.

    Alternatively, you can fight monsters that are not Humanoids, or fight EVIL CULTISTS, or something.

    Dealing with widows and orphans are interesting enough plot hooks, as is the ethics of engagement, so you might not have to change anything.

    In my current DW game, the Pally always, always tries to take prisoners or find alternative means to fighting and will only fight if attacked or the belligerents are demons or something. Makes things interesting. The Barb is a bit capricious about what she considers a worthy foe, an honourable kill or a worthwhile combat. Whereas, the Mage doesn't like combat at all, ever.
  • It really goes to show how much of those early dungeon modules were put there not because of any continuity or because someone thought of some big overarching ecology of cause and effect, but just to fuck with the players like a complete jackass. Yay for the old school. *dispirited mumble*
  • edited February 2012
    The morality play of "do you kill the baby hill giants" was poison to D&D games all the way back in the 80s (probably the 70s too, but I wasn't playing then).

    It could have been an interesting moral decision, but groups were not equipped with the framework to make it an interesting discussion, so too often it was a collision of tactical choices (we have to kill the baby giants, they have orc stats and they'll grow up to be chaotic evil hill giants) and moral angst. And too, too often the DM used it to torture / bushwhack players with no-win scenarios (you can't kill them, you're Lawful Good!)

    I'm not saying this was anyone's plan, but once you put the baby hill giants in the room without planning ahead to the consequences, things get ugly. Unless you communicate what kind of game you're running, it's a GM foul.

    (I say baby hill giants because I'm pretty sure G1 did it first)
  • The 'do we kill the children?' question is a key to your games. If you want a nuanced game that questions morality and just how far you'll go for war or loot, leave them in and let them choose the path they take, with the consequences for their character's souls. But do perhaps actually say out loud at that point, 'remember these are your characters, not you..' But it does make you think, most D&D games are rampant pillage and in some cases genocide.

    If you don't want that awkwardness, leave out the kids. But it fits in B2, the denizens aren't a modern amy, they're a band of nomads and their families.

    You choose, and it's a good thing you think about it in advance.

    I've had players who are amazingly kind and almost adopted orphan non-humans.
  • Ben, a quick confirmation from experience that yes, it goes back to the 70s.
  • Sorry to hear that, Jim! I figured as much since G1 was out in the 70s.
  • edited February 2012
    OK! If you have the children there, and the players decide that the characters want no part of such killing ...
    - what then?
    Will the module crumble and dissolve by their choice?
    Do you have an alternative to fill the game-session?

    If not; get rid of the children. The dilemma is tainted by the players interest in playing the scenario.

    If you want game-play that opens up for moral dilemmas, you must cater for all outcomes. That is the reason I seldom run standard scenarios any more. It is easier to set up the setting with agents for conflicts (angry warriors, misplaced children, quarreling spouses, whatever), and explore any direction chosen by the players (or any direction growing from the interaction, and possibly growing out of our hands).
  • edited February 2012
    The whole women and children in orc lairs thing is an extension of Gygaxian Naturalism. Meaning Gary was apparently trying to make the fictional world seem real. Which I sort of find odd since the Caves of Chaos was created back when all Chaotic creatures were basically evil by default.

    Anyway, if it's something you want to sidestep, I'd just remove the naturalism and make the humanoid denizens of the caves evil monstrosities born of dark gods long ago. Even Tolkien couldn't make up his mind on the nature and origins of his orcs, so just choosing what works for you and your game isn't a big deal.

    Just as a data point, I used to run The Keep on the Borderlands module a lot. I don't recall anybody ever killing any of the humanoid children. Some of the women who attacked, yes. I can't say I find that outcome any less cruel. Being left to fend for themselves, vastly outnumbered with the male warriors gone and in a hostile environment, just doesn't sound particularly kind or merciful to me.
  • I personally neatly sidestep this entire issue by not having bullshit humanoids in my campaign. I run adventure modules, so any and all "humanoids" become either inhuman monsters or just different ethnicities of human. So when I have a goblin tribe in the caves, they do certainly have women and children as well, and they're human women and human children, and the players can deal with them in the cultural context of what they're doing, which might range from trade missions to ethnic cleansing, depending on the players. If they want to kill indian women and children, that's on them.

    On the other hand, when players meet orcs, they're inhuman, sexless monsters with no capacity for anything resembling culture. That's just what the creature called "orc" is like in my campaign world. Killing their children is a non-issue because they don't have anything resembling a human child.

    Note that the original problem comes in because the Gygaxian bullshit humanoids are supposed to be monsters and people at the same time; on the one hand players are supposed to feel good about killing them, but on the other hand they have toddlers running around and wifey just prepared lunch for the hard-working ravager to come home to. I remove either element, and thus never have a situation where campaign metaphysics encourage attrocities.

    It should be noted that my solution might still be too cruel or grim for those who want to run heroic games - it's a sandbox setting where I specifically don't bother to work up justifications for the players, which means that if they want to raid local aborogines, we're pretty much going to understand as players that this is our characters being imperialistic assholes. If they want to be heroic in a romantic sense of the term, I suggest treating the natives such as the goblin tribes well: don't attack them unless they attack you first, give quarter to prisoners, make attempts at peace and accept that them merely living underground is not actually a moral reason for attacking their homes and killing them all. And it's not like the aboroginals can't be cruel and hostile, too - if I want heroic adventurers to have a good reason to attack the goblins or whatever where they live, I most definitely have to give them good reason: the goblins are at war with the civilized population of the area, raiding mercilessly. This is still not enough reason to go full hog ethnic cleansing on them where I come from, but it is a basis for just war and resolution-seeking in full panoply.

    I'm not familiar with the Keep on the Borderlands in any detail myself, but I would basically ask myself one question when reading through it: does this module depict a credible primitive human encampment (perhaps in a cave system), or is this a hell-hole where only monsters would live? If it's the former, I'll substitute the plastic mold -issue humanoids with some primitive human tribes, and if it's the latter, I'll substitute them with what amounts to demons. This will, obviously, reduce ambivalence about the adventure location, as it's either going to be "those guys come in to trade at our town a few times per year" or "that place is a doorway to Hell" insofar as the civilized base camp is concerned.

    Finally, we did in fact have this scene in our game last fall: we'd been playing through Dyson's Delve (highly recommended free dungeon available in the 'net, by the way), which includes a goblin tribe living on the first couple floors of the deep dungeon, and the players ended up fighting a quite serious war with the goblins. The relations were cordial at first, as the party negotiated free passage through the goblin territories and some auxiliary support in exchange for 20% of their loot, but later on the players (largely a different set of players, as the campaign has a shifting player base), tired of paying a slice of the loot to the goblins, foolishly attacked them and started a cycle of violence that spiralled out of control - some negotiations were had, but as the party refused to pay wergild and caused some serious losses to the goblins, they basically started to fight for their survival as a tribal unit, thirsting for PC blood. Players being what they are, they responded in kind, and ultimately ended up making a few pretty well-organized expeditions against goblins fighting a desperate room-by-room retreat involving massive barricades, trained attack animals and so on. Ultimately the players did in fact stumble on a room-full of goblins too old or young to fight; the most blood-crazed PCs didn't really care, especially as the goblins grabbed some arms and tried to defend themselves, and the rest of the party couldn't stop them, so it became a massacre. Afterwards the characters of more gentle persuasion were notably subdued about reckless war against natives, while the bloodthirsty ones were keen for further bloodshed. All this didn't seem particularly problematic to us as players, nothing happened that couldn't be handled in the context of historical societies and their actions towards each other.
  • edited February 2012
    I'll always remember once, someone asked Gygax what the "right" way to deal with orc babies was.

    If I recall correctly, his answer was basically to raise them up right, so that they achieve a state of grace and Goodness. And then murder them, before their natural instincts and Evil tendencies cause them to sin. So they get to go to the Good afterlife! Yay!

    I was always a little dumbfounded at that.
  • Ah, also, I should note that I think that successfully navigating this sort of content depends on whether the players have useful cultural frameworks to draw on for their character identities. I mean, it seems to me that the groups that have trouble with handling monster children have these problems because they don't have clear socio-psychological understanding of who and what their characters are, and how one would assume such people to act in such situations, and why. This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with my strongly European-flavoured brand of game, this applies to the standard D&D setting as well: presumably this band of adventurers isn't the first one ever to discover goblin children; what do the adventurers expect that an adventurer would do in this situation?

    I don't think it's fair for the GM to pretend that there is no precedent, no rules of war, for a society that's apparently been waging war on non-human humanoids ever since the dawn of the world. Surely the player characters know what is acceptable, civilized treatment for the different varieties of common humanoid - maybe they know that goblins are pest animals and need to be eradicated wherever encountered, while the orc tribes should not be unnecessarily aggravated by needless slaughter, and the church actually thinks that hobgoblins have souls, so they have to be treated like humans. Whatever, the point is that I don't think that this is such a difficult problem as long as the adventuring party has their ordinary experience of their world to fall back on. The problematic situation seems to be the one where the GM treats the situation like it's such an unique occurrence that the players have to be some moral trailblazers.

    This won't apply to all campaigns, but for us the set of standards the adventurers rely on is basically the mercenary code of Christian Europe. It's not like it's a written down set of rules, but in practice the player characters and non-player characters of the setting have found no difficulty in figuring out where to draw the line between the various varieties of professional warcraft, just war, criminal enterprise, mad atrocity, evil exploitation and other things that are available in the repertoires of player characters. We have a history full of relations between more and less civilized societies to draw on, I've found it unproblematic to just assume that the fantasy society, and by extension player characters, mostly act according to those precepts.
  • I would include them if it makes sense. For example: is this a war party of Orcs who use this as their home base where they live, or are they just on a raid? If this is supposed to be where they live primarily I think the women and children should definitely stay.
  • This also depends on how you run the Keep. Some crafty players head out into the caverns united all the folks there and sack the Keep itself. There is way more treasure and mayhem to be had if you go after the Keep.

    ara
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenI don't think it's fair for the GM to pretend that there is no precedent, no rules of war, for a society that's apparently been waging war on non-human humanoids ever since the dawn of the world.
    The problematic situation seems to be the one where the GM treats the situation like it's such an unique occurrence that the players have to be some moral trailblazers.
    This, this, thousand times this.

    I would amend that opening the topic at the table at least briefly before running across the first bunch of monsterbabies would be good: for some players monsterbabies might kill the game no matter what, which is something I at least would want to know beforehand.
  • Good Lord! This is the most interesting thread I've ever seen here.

    You guys are like, mostly all agreeing the hobgoblin babies and hill-giant young are a bad thing in those modules. Those are the absolutely best things about the adventures. I'm at a loss.

    It's bad to force PCs to make moral decisions? It's bad to put them in a spot? It's sad that murdering babies puts a bad taste in the players' mouth? It's bad for the players to look at the situation and realize that they are the bad guys? And it's poison to the D&D games?

    Those are all gems! I seriously don't get what's going on. Is it opposite day?
  • In my convention demo for Dungeon World there are a bunch of Goblins hanging out in a temple - women, children, everybody. They are unexpected, they are in the way, and every group of adventurers needs to deal with them. I've run it maybe a dozen times and nobody has ever straight-up murdered non-combatants. I think one big reason is that the game gives players tools to use other than swords. Another reason is that I always position it fictionally to make them seem reasonable - they are just cooking their dinner and freaking out at the invasion of these heavily-armed lunatics.
  • When you kill a child, hold 3 and describe what is going through your mind. Holds can be spent, 1 for 1, to take +2 when a child is involved. You may spend 3 hold to move your alignment one slot toward evil.
  • Seems like this is the problem when a game includes genocide as a common, "normal" behavior and asks the players to make "rational" choices about it based on a stupid, morally questionable fantasy logic where certain beings are inherently evil and killing them is a terrible but necessary thing. When players are directly confronted with these ideas and choices, no shit it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. If it didn't... that would be an even bigger issue.

    It's interesting that the proposed options seem to be 1) keep the genocide but remove the women and children so it's not obvious, or 2) don't assume the game is kinda about genocide in the first place. Personally, though it was probably different when I was a kid and just wanted to kill things, I think option 1 would make me incredibly uncomfortable nowadays, and I would much prefer a game and playstyle that didn't assume that killing everyone was a viable option.

    Really, seems like this is a larger problem in games where fighting is the most interesting mechanical thing you can do (and the only thing that everyone is good at), so violence has to be at the core of the experience, but where the things you're fighting are typically other people. So, the GM's job is to make sure you get into violent conflicts with other people, rather than just setting up the situation and seeing how you choose to deal with it, in a system where there are a bunch of different viable options. I mean, games like Dogs, the Mountain Witch, Burning Wheel, and AW are set up to make statements about violence, what it's like, and what it leads to, but most fighty dungeony games often seem to be intentionally trying to avoid that, at least mechanically, which is what creates a lot of discomfort when it comes up in play, yeah?
  • I say keep the woman and children in, after all, they are fantastic women and children. Play to find out what happens.
  • Posted By: Christopher WeeksIt's bad to force PCs to make moral decisions? It's bad to put them in a spot? It's sad that murdering babies puts a bad taste in the players' mouth? It's bad for the players to look at the situation and realize thattheyare the bad guys? And it's poison to the D&D games?
    Yes, pretty much.

    You need to understand, I'm a very focused gamer. When I sit down to play and it's a game I know, it's all going to be diamond-sharp Creative Agenda Fulfillment from the first second on. I'm all for dramatic games of soul-gazing, but I don't want that in my D&D campaign: the campaign is about success and failure of a bunch of footloose adventurers in a world that can be both cruel and grand, and having a moral dimension be the matter of contention in the game would derail this. Morals are there, but they are scrupples, personally chosen limitations, handicaps and simple features of who is facing what challenges in what way.

    Imagine it: a player has succeeded in winning against impossible odds, and then the GM marches the victims of his ambition through his character's newly-built castle's yard, where he can see the widows and crying children of his enemies being forced off into prison camps. The player futilely demands for fair treatment of the vanquished, but the GM brings in a parade of vapid and cruel underlings tied down by their medieval mores, refusing and incapable of understanding his wish to not be tarred as a monster. It is clear that the GM is now driven to prove that the player's struggle for victory was inconceived to begin with, and he's the real monster of the story. This is certainly great drama, but the GM who is doing this in a D&D game (as we play it here) would be stepping outside his purview: the GM has no right to moral provocation in this game, it's not the subject matter and it's not for him to be the accuser. It's as if the Banker in Monopoly refused to shut up about the poor tenants who're going to be left homeless when I build my hotel.

    I want to emphasize that the player characters do have morals in this mode of play, and they are limited by those morals, but at no point are they a creative stake: we are not playing to discover how far my character is willing to go, as I already know that. Whether my character is the sort who'd kill goblin babies to sell their ears, or an honorable hero who would never raise his arms against the helpless, we're just going to accept these statements at their face value and move accordingly to the real meat of discovery: for this character with this nature and means, is it possible to overcome this challenge?

    (As for realizing that they are the bad guys, my players have had these realizations a few times. It's an amusing ironic insight in the literary sense of the term, though: the players recognize that their characters are going about their business in the worst traditions of European imperialism. Some of the characters are bothered by these realizations, trying to change, while others are not; the players are all amused regardless, as we know that the moral dimension of our choices is not being judged, but rather we're all just excited to see what happens next.)

    I know that others have had different experiences with D&D, using it to play - dare I say it - narrativist campaigns. I certainly don't agree with the idea that such a direction would be the only or best way to handle D&D. The game has some remarkable tools for gamist adventures, but not so much in the way of narrativism support. The goblin babies are a red herring.
  • Posted By: BenhimselfIf I recall correctly, his answer was basically to raise them up right, so that they achieve a state of grace and Goodness. And thenmurder them, before their natural instincts and Evil tendencies cause them to sin. So they get to go to the Good afterlife! Yay!

    I was always a little dumbfounded at that.
    You've been trolled by a founder of D&D.

    Gygaxian Naturalism is a cover story. Reading Gygax' actual modules makes it clear that "naturalism" was not what he was after. He put all kinds of shit in those modules just because it would be cool or funny or would fuck with the players. That was the purpose of those kids. To fuck with the players.
  • Posted By: Christopher WeeksYou guys are like, mostly all agreeing the hobgoblin babies and hill-giant young are abadthing in those modules. Those are the absolutelybestthings about the adventures. I'm at a loss.

    It's bad to force PCs to make moral decisions? It's bad to put them in a spot? It's sad that murdering babies puts a bad taste in the players' mouth? It's bad for the players to look at the situation and realize thattheyare the bad guys? And it's poison to the D&D games?

    Those are all gems!
    I can see where some of the others are coming from when they talk about how D&D (in particular) isn't really equipped mechanically to deal with moral issues, but for the most part I'm with you. Maybe it's because I don't find tactical, grid-based combat games fun at all and therefore have always viewed D&D as an imperfect vehicle for telling the stories that do interest me. I've always found a way to make it work even when the game's solution to every problem is, "I hit it with my axe."

    Now I know this whole conversation got started because of something in a D&D module, but I'd like to see it expand a little bit to encompass the general idea of noncombatants in violent situations. I got into a hell of a pickle a couple of years ago for talking about a Vietnam War-era game that would have necessarily included this sort of thing, so I'd appreciate knowing a bit more about how people feel about the issue and how they deal with it in the various games they run. Maybe that would necessitate another thread, but it seems on point enough.
  • This was a really long time ago, by my recollection was that it was the paladin who convinced everyone in our group to slaughter everything in Keep on the Borderlands, under the rationale of orcs being "abominations in the eyes of god" or such like.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyPosted By: BenhimselfIf I recall correctly, his answer was basically to raise them up right, so that they achieve a state of grace and Goodness. And thenmurder them, before their natural instincts and Evil tendencies cause them to sin. So they get to go to the Good afterlife! Yay!

    I was always a little dumbfounded at that.
    You've been trolled by a founder of D&D.

    Gygaxian Naturalism is a cover story. Reading Gygax' actual modules makes it clear that "naturalism" was not what he was after. He put all kinds of shit in those modules just because it would be cool or funny or would fuck with the players. That was the purpose of those kids. To fuck with the players.

    This is how we felt.

    We felt trolled.

    I don't even think removing non-combatants solves the problem for me and my friends. We had just as much a problem fighting the combatants because really… they are just defending themselves… from us!

    These are human like creatures that don't feel very monster like, combatants included. They are intelligent, have families, language, and seemingly are living peacefully in a cave… minding their own business. They are even surrounded by other "monster" humanoids living in caves nearby, seemingly peacefully co-existing. The only threat destabilizing this situation is… the "heroes".

    So if this module is intended to teach us a lesson, we stop playing the module! We go in as young inexperienced treasure seekers, rationalizing that it's ok because we're fighting monsters, only to realize that we suck. Our characters go home, maybe get a real job, or look for real monsters to fight. Meanwhile, we (the players) wasted our money because we didn't get to use the module. If this is the story we wanted to experience, we didn't need the module to do it.

    Let me underline, for us, removing children Orcs doesn't solve the problem. The Orc children just makes the underlining issues more blatant and difficult to ignore (for us).
  • With a single axis alignment system this becomes interesting if all orcs are chaotic, the Lawful thing would be to kill them and the neutral thing could be whatever. Just like Stormbringer from which the alignment system was taken neutrality is the only good option and Law and Chaos are both inhuman and ultimately evil.
  • Posted By: jenskotwe (the players) wasted our money because we didn't get to use the module.
    John, how much of what kind of "use" makes it not a waste?

    On one end of the spectrum, there's maybe a single secret room in the module that the party doesn't ever find. I imagine we all agree that that doesn't make it a waste, right? You don't need to experience every single bit of content...I'm assuming. But if your party travels to the Keep and apprehends the situation at the Caves, conducts a raid or two into them before becoming sick with themselves and trying to figure out a way to make things right -- that's a waste? Is there some tipping point of content consumption that you can identify or is it entirely vague and based on whether you feel like you were tricked?

    I've played Keep where we just butchered everything and I've played where we talked our way in and helped organize a neutral zone and productive trade between the folks at the keep and the nonhumans. The second experience was superior to the first -- not in any way a waste.
  • edited February 2012
    Good question.

    We played 17% of Keep in the Borderlines before running into these issues.
  • Posted By: jenskotWe're part of a weekly gaming experiment where every week we are running the Caves of Chaos in a different system in an art gallery.
    You NYC'ers have pretty much the coolest gaming scene ever.
  • Tavis gets all the credit for this specific experiment!
  • Posted By: jenskotGood question.

    We played 17% of Keep in the Borderlines before running into these issues.
    I should note that looking at KotB, the marketing text doesn't promise anything in particular beyond teaching you how to run your first dungeon. Which it does well!

    Feeling like something or part of something was a waste is subjective, a lot having to do with expectations. To be clear, I don't think KotB is a waste of time or money. Many, many people have played and love it!
  • It's also interesting that as a piece of art, the module causing the consternation that it apparently has, is at least potentially, a valuable attribute. But as a commercial product, inducing discomfort -- particularly the feeling that the customer was tricked or robbed, seems pretty bad.
  • edited February 2012
    I've been writing the Alignment section of DW recently and here's the way I'm leaning (we'll see if this makes it pass all the BS-detecting steps DW goes through):

    Good creatures are (or at least aspire to be) selfless. To look out for others. Evil creatures are aggressively selfish, they'll cause harm to others to serve themselves. Neutral creatures look out for themselves so long as it doesn't hurt anyone else too much.

    All of these have justifications for battle and killing. It's still D&D.

    Monsters don't have listed alignments. This is different from D&D.

    The idea is to sidestep a lot of the horrible genocidal behavior that comes along with entire evil species and with evil defined as just kind of bad. Part of how the way it does that is by making it so that alignment does not as directly equate to what the players fight. An army led by a Good king could still be a problem. The king wants to establish a great empire which will give peace and prosperity to the world, but to do that he has to wage war on the PC's home city, killing innocents in the process. The king could even be an orc. There's no real evil here, just competing goods: the good of the city's welfare and the good of a peaceful empire.

    Now that evil isn't the only justifier for creating adventures for good characters all the humanoid creatures are freed from their shackles or prescribed alignment. Orcs can still be a threat in their warbands, but they don't have to be evil about it. They could be waging a fair war over territory. Or there could still be some evil orcs that do fight to, say, eradicate humankind. Alignment isn't how you know what to fight.

    I think that's what really skeeves me out about Caves of Chaos: these creatures are supposed to be "evil" but that's just kind of stated, not portrayed. Evil defined like that doesn't require action, it's just a state of being, which means that it can apply to noncombatants, which makes it really weird. But it's also a key signifier of what to fight: you kill evil stuff. Yuck.
  • Posted By: Christopher Weeks
    It's bad to force PCs to make moral decisions? It's bad to put them in a spot? It's sad that murdering babies puts a bad taste in the players' mouth? It's bad for the players to look at the situation and realize thattheyare the bad guys? And it's poison to the D&D games?
    I agree with Christopher here. While these aspects may not be great for D&D, they might make perfect sense in another system. I think this is one of the beauties of these old modules for testing across systems. They are set up to screw with the players, which will lead to engagement in different systems in a way you would not get in a module that "played it straight."
  • Posted By: sageGood creatures are (or at least aspire to be) selfless. To look out for others. Evil creatures are aggressively selfish, they'll cause harm to others to serve themselves. Neutral creatures look out for themselves so long as it doesn't hurt anyone else too much.
    You have to be careful with classification like. That logic would make autistic people fundamentally evil due to no fault of their own. You may want to check out The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty
  • Posted By: sageMonsters don't have listed alignments.
    Monsters have instincts. That is their individual vision of good. I dig them not having listed alignments.
  • Yeah... well the way I'm looking at the humanoids in my DW conversion is as a "Humanoid Turf War" front like in The Bloodstone Idol. This conflict is in the original module but I'm emphasizing it even more. In this case, I have the Greengrin goblinoid alliance (hobgoblins, goblins, and bugbears) against the Blackspear orcs and their gnoll allies. Both sides have been raiding the surrounding countryside, slaughtering crofters, stealing pigs, etc. This tribal feud is threatening to escalate into an all-out war. So the PCs do actually have some justification for trying to... well, stop them from doing that, either by violence or diplomacy.

    Part of the problem with these situations in old school D&D is that the game says (somewhere or other) that these humanoids are inherently evil. In other words, even if you make the goblin kids into altar boys at the church of Heironeous, they will ultimately turn to theft, murder, demonolatry, and worse. They are enemies of humankind and all that is good. So you might as well kill them. That is just how things stand in the Manichaean cosmos of Gygax. But as normal human beings, I think we as players have a hard time buying into that. So that even if your character knows the goblin kids are vile spawn of Maglubiyet, it still doesn't sit well with you to put them to the sword.

    Sage, sounds to me like you're going in the right direction with the DW alignment system.

    That said, I'm still not sure how I want to handle this with my conversion of the Caves. Now I'm actually leaning toward leaving the noncombatants in, and seeing what the PCs do. If humanoids are not inherently evil, that removes the in-fiction moral justification for killing them, at least as far as I can tell. That definitely puts the PCs in a spot, but in a different, perhaps more interesting way than before.

    In any case, the real villains in my conversion are the evil priest and his ilk. I actually made them into a Cult of Orcus front, with the evil priest Sabazius trying to raise an undead army to conquer the Keep and the surrounding area.
  • A few years ago I ran a Burning THAC0 event at Chicago Gameday where the players took the roles of the various humanoid leaders in the Caves (idea suggested by Kublai not he BW boards). Word has come to them that the hoo-mans are about stage yet another raid on their homes, so the leaders are trying to band together to defend the caves and possibly lay siege to the Keep. The jockeying for power between the various tribes was itself a whole heck of fun.
  • I think alignment is least problematic when cast as a simple stat that tracks the PC's alignment (in the literal sense) with the various Fundamental Forces of the Universe™. I.e., we are not using "good" in a philosophical sense, but "Good" as a proper noun that describes a feature of the setting.

    Alignment then becomes a very profound statement about the nature of the PC. To be Evil (or Chaotic) means that they have made a point to cast their lot with the forces that seek to destroy the world and undermine all life. To be Good (or Lawful) means they have pledged themselves to the Powers That Be and sworn to do their bidding in an effort to preserve the world and the not-Evil creatures in it.

    When alignment is simply moral habit, I think it's better to just jettison it entirely and face the fact that play will inevitably address the sorts of moral dilemmas discussed in this thread.
  • Posted By: jjafullerPosted By: sageGood creatures are (or at least aspire to be) selfless. To look out for others. Evil creatures are aggressively selfish, they'll cause harm to others to serve themselves. Neutral creatures look out for themselves so long as it doesn't hurt anyone else too much.
    You have to be careful with classification like. That logic would make autistic people fundamentally evil due to no fault of their own. You may want to check out The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty

    First off we're not attempting to describe any real world morality here at all. We're tying to make alignments that don't lead to genocide and lame GM-traps. That said, an alignment that says that about the real world, even if not meant to apply, makes me feel icky.

    I hope that the other part of alignment alleviates the problem somewhat: in DW alignment is what you strive for, what your inner self desires. A person who harms others through no fault of their own, without the desire to do so, is not evil in our system. I don't know that much about autism, but that would seem to avoid casting it as evil, since there isn't a desire for putting yourself above others, just a challenge in understanding the effect of your actions on others.

    And yes, the innermost desire bit does allow for good people doing evil things and vice versa. I think that's pretty cool. The broken case where the Lawful Good Paladin is a selfish bastard who throws others under the bus for his own good is subject to the opinions of everyone else at the table. Instead of cut and dried "you did an evil thing, now you're evil" you can keep your alignment so long as everyone at the table can believe that your character still holds that idea. And you won't be getting much XP for it.
  • Strong agreement with alignment referring to Cosmic Stuff instead of Moral Fibre.
  • Alignments didn't work too well for me; I prefer to use them as guidelines instead of an strict code, and see how things in the game lead players to have their characters rethink their beliefs. However I haven't been including alignments in any of the fantasy games I've GMed/played. It has gone to the point where, on the first story arch of the campaign I've been playing for 5 years, the first generation of PCs ended working for the main villain, which wasn't exactly an evil maniac, but a machiavellic altruist.

    We also felt in love with the setting in John Wick's Orkworld, and the way it fills the game with moral gray areas. Games can be a way to learn more about reality, but they don't HAVE to. So if you like your loot without children's blood, that's up to you and your players. I'd say go without the women and children and have fun.
  • Posted By: Christopher WeeksGood Lord! This is the most interesting thread I've ever seen here.

    You guys are like, mostly all agreeing the hobgoblin babies and hill-giant young are abadthing in those modules. Those are the absolutelybestthings about the adventures. I'm at a loss.

    It's bad to force PCs to make moral decisions? It's bad to put them in a spot? It's sad that murdering babies puts a bad taste in the players' mouth? It's bad for the players to look at the situation and realize thattheyare the bad guys? And it's poison to the D&D games?

    Those are all gems! I seriously don't get what's going on. Is it opposite day?
    I think those things are only good or bad in contrast to what game the people at the table actually want to play. Yes, such situations can create interesting and engaging moral dilemmas. It can also be a gobsmack (yes, I just noun-ified it) that sucks all the fun and enjoyment out of play. Sometimes and for some people D&D is a game about destroying monsters and taking their stuff, without the baggage of having to decide if killing imaginary fantasy creatures is morally bankrupt. Which is why I recommended turning the humanoids into actual monsters with no doubt of their nature, instead of very human-like tribal analogs.

    I don't think that's a bad thing, and that it's important to keep in mind that this is a game and that the harm and death and mayhem is all imaginary. I mean, we all know how we feel about this sort of thing when it happens in real life, right? I think the problematic part of situations like those presented in the Caves of Chaos is the mixed signals given out by the game. I really doubt it was meant to cause an emergent and complex moral narrative and is more likely along the lines of what JDCorely is saying. And even more likely is that, and no one is surprised here I think, that D&D just tends to be really incoherent right off the shelf.

    One thing I do find interesting is that The Keep on the Borderlands is a module that was included with a basic boxed set of the game that was, from what I understand, aimed at teens and pre-teens.
  • This is a neat topic because I always wanted to publish an idea that I began creating/DMing called "SLAUGHTER AT THE CAVES OF CHAOS". Wherein my players created the "last monster standing" of his chosen humanoid race (that was listed in the original KotBL module). I then set them out in a "reverse dungeon" campaign! The idea being these "last of their kind" monsters would begin the campaign in the middle of action as the "heroes" adventuring party was in the middle of the dungeon crawl.

    The GNOLL (Ranger) regaining consciousness, waking from under a pile of corpses of his tribe.
    The GOBLIN (anti-paladin) cowering in a bolt-hole watching the "hero-party" leave his tribe's hole.
    The MINOTAUR (priest) "safe" in his mini-labyrinth peering out of the thicket to see the wagons of gold being gathered by the "hero-party" outside the Caves.
    A HUMAN member of the evil-cult within the caves, fleeing as the "hero-party" burns his cult's evil temple.
    etc... etc...


    The idea of the campaign (after the opening "ESCAPE" part of the adventure) being to go out and both - seek revenge and find other members of their species, in a world they'd NEVER been outside of the realm, not even knowing IF there were other tribes in other realms to seek out!

    My players began calling the "hero-party" ... "those damned pink-skinned murderers" or "those bastard pinkies!" (all of them - human, elf, dwarf, etc... begin white/pink skinned!) ... and they imagined taking the roles of the "hordes" but for "monster-morality" reasons, going out and invading towns, burning, etc...
    And to *help* them with their player rational - I really REALLY did play up the brutality in descriptions of the "Pinkies" as they slaughtered humanoid tribes (yes - women/children) to literal extinction in the Caves of Chaos.


    Honestly... I felt that it was an actual interesting (read: fun) take at a campaign to be able to "play" evil based characters from unique points of view. Allowing them to ACT like monsters, but actually having a fair (although monster) point-of-view and get to ENJOY the evil ways... all with the brutality of the "heroes" of the Keep on the Borderlands as example of what "good" "heroes" are[?]... Heroes?? Seriously??

    The campaign didn't last long (due to player out-of-game things, not the story itself) but I wish it had. It could have been VERY interesting, to role-play that side of morality as players and as DM.
    thoughts?

    -kev-
  • Posted By: JDCorley
    You've been trolled by a founder of D&D.

    Gygaxian Naturalism is a cover story. Reading Gygax' actual modules makes it clear that "naturalism" was not what he was after. He put all kinds of shit in those modules just because it would be cool or funny or would fuck with the players. That was the purpose of those kids. To fuck with the players.
    Is this such a terrible thing? Is it a bad thing at all?

    These moments, when the players suddenly discover they are playing a very different game than they anticipated, probably have inspired more creativity than any smooth, carefully polished session where the players know what to expect and get exactly that and leave the table self-satisfied and content. How many game designs have been inspired by moments like that? Sometimes the players will discover mechanical and narrative possibilities they hadn't imagined, and this will drive them to find more effective ways to generate those experiences. Sometime the players will absolutely hate what happens and will be driven to create means of structuring play so that they will never have an experience like it again. Either way, the players have been forced out of their comfortable assumptions and inspired.
  • Posted By: Christopher WeeksGood Lord! This is the most interesting thread I've ever seen here.

    You guys are like, mostly all agreeing the hobgoblin babies and hill-giant young are abadthing in those modules. Those are the absolutelybestthings about the adventures. I'm at a loss.

    It's bad to force PCs to make moral decisions? It's bad to put them in a spot? It's sad that murdering babies puts a bad taste in the players' mouth? It's bad for the players to look at the situation and realize thattheyare the bad guys? And it's poison to the D&D games?

    Those are all gems! I seriously don't get what's going on. Is it opposite day?

    I felt the same way. That was some of our favorite parts of those sorts of modules. I've played with parties where the players killed them all by dashing their heads against the cave wall because "why dull a good sword killing babies" (yeah, that was a Evil party) and I've played where the women were spared and allowed to leave with the kids. I remember one campaign where the players had a "favorite charity". It started out as kind of a running joke of coming home to the horrible orphanage where 2 of the characters grew up (I know, right) and donating tons of gold in order to buy the place, fire all the vile workers and make it a nice place for the orphans. The running joke was that since the only professionals available to be hired outside of sages were henchmen with levels that they were actually creating a school training up orphans to be henchmen for adventurers (cue Dr. Xavier jokes here). Later on when they cleared out a next of kobolds they encountered a creche full of young and realized that the kobolds they just killed were the caretakers. So they gathered them up and took them back to the orphanage to be raised...and after that there were common speaking kobolds living and working as citizens in that city...since by then the party pretty much owned the city no one said boo about it (to their faces anyway). I think later they added some gnolls and sahuagan...I think it was sahuagan...some kind of fish people who wound up living in the river and canals.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: whduryeaIs this such a terrible thing? Is it a bad thing at all?
    Whether that's terrible or not seems to depend on the spirit in which the helpless orc babies scenario is introduced, and how well it fits into your specific game.

    There's no reason why it couldn't be done well, inspiring creative possibilities, energizing the group, and so on. Sadly, there's also no reason why it couldn't be done very badly, just fucking up everyone's fun for the hell of it.

    I think why so much of it ends up in the latter category has a lot to do with those old modules. You'd read them and think, okay, this is how adventures are built: you make a map like this, you put in these kinds of monsters, you plan for this climactic battle in the final room, and somewhere in the middle you have a room where the PCs are put in a shitty moral conundrum that lets you ding the paladins or the thieves or everyone because ROLEPLAYING. If the players aren't agonizing over a decision because they aren't sure just how the GM is planning to fuck them over for whatever choice they make, you're doing it wrong.

    It's that kind of thoughtless, rote setup that wrecks it for everyone, I think. Ideally, you'd only have those situations in a game because you thought very carefully about what the group wants to explore in play, and laid out the groundwork that would put the situation in context (within the game's setting, its cosmology, etc.), and what that situation will mean to the players and to their characters. It wouldn't be there because it's room 23, about halfway into the dungeon and therefore time to mess with their heads -- it would be there because it is being offered as a genuine opportunity to inspire creative play and make this game session better.

    The module obviously can only offer thoughtless, rote setups: the writers didn't know you or your group or what you liked. (Sometimes I'm not even sure they knew what THEY liked; those old modules often had a patchwork, kitchen-sink feeling to them.) This is why modules are so hit-and-miss, and why most of the people I played with made very sure to state up front whether they were planning on running a module exactly as written (translation: "Parts of this are going to be really dumb and suck, because it's not meant for our specific game") or if they were going to adapt it to fit what we were doing.
  • It's kind of like (but not the same) when a GM says, " I know we all agreed to play heroes in a fantasy lighthearted sword and sorcery game" fast forward a few hours or even a few sessions, "but you're actually all prisoners in a depressing scifi world where your criminal's brains are hooked up to virtual reality thingies... what do you do now?"

    If this is good or bad depends on your specific group. One size does not fit all.

    It depends on your social contract. I would guess in general, you are breaking the social contract and it's going to annoy quite a few people. How quickly you convert that annoyance to surprise to excitement will depend on how skillful the execution is (and the bar is likely being set very high). It's a gamble. I've had it happen one time where it was AMAZING (like the first Matrix movie) and four times where it tanked the entire game (and in two cases, the group).

    My preferred gaming style is filled with moral challenges, questioning themes, and killing sacred cows. I love the style! I want to play a game where I ask myself, "damn, maybe we shouldn't be attacking these goblins."

    But much more important, my preferred social style is... honesty!

    If I'm going to run this style of game, I'm going to be up front about it. Unless my friends tell me, "anything goes, surprise us." Which has happened, and is fun! But I'm going to do whats fun for my friends. I'm not here to teach them a surprise lesson.
  • Posted By: Accounting for Tasteand somewhere in the middle you have a room where the PCs are put in a shitty moral conundrum that lets you ding the paladins or the thieves or everyone because ROLEPLAYING. If the players aren't agonizing over a decision because they aren't sure just how the GM is planning to fuck them over for whatever choice they make, you're doing it wrong.
    Accounting for Taste knocks it out of the park. The point isn't that difficult moral and ethical situations are a bad thing in RPGs, it's that "But wait there are kobold babies! MIIINDFREEEAK" is a stupid, uninspired, and boring example. There are so many great examples of moral-ethical conundrums in fantasy fiction (kill Gollum or let him guide the way to Mordor, remain loyal to the Night's Watch or ride with Robb Stark) but kobold babies are not equivalent.
  • Posted By: Felan
    Accounting for Taste knocks it out of the park. The point isn't that difficult moral and ethical situations are a bad thing in RPGs, it's that "But wait there are kobold babies! MIIINDFREEEAK" is a stupid, uninspired, andboringexample.
    Maybe by the standards of today's story game rich world, but I'd say that it was probably on the cutting edge of difficult morality in RPGs in 1979.

    And that was my point. Not so much that this was a great moral choice, well executed, but that there is something valuable in offering players provocative situations that they were not expecting when they say down to play, and that they are not fully prepared to handle.

    Finding baby orcs in a dungeon probably doesn't meet that criteria anymore, since (as Accounting pointed out) it has become just another adventuring cliche. But it's not the spirit of "trolling the players" that's wrong so much as the execution (trolling the players in a formulaic way).
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